Companies weigh the value of introducing SOA

Service-oriented architecture, or SOA, is all the buzz these days, but those in the know say the concepts behind SOA have really been around for some time.

Not a technology per se, SOA is rather a way of designing systems that communicate with each other in a self-contained way so they don't depend on the context or state of the other services.

For business process modeling (BPM) software vendor IDS Scheer North America, a subsidiary of German BPM vendor IDS Scheer AG, the hype around SOA underscored the company's message to the market around the role its ARIS modeling platform can play in designing business architectures that fulfill the service models inherent within SOA. IDS Scheer sees a company modeling its business process with the vendor's ARIS toolset as an important first step before an ERP implementation.

"It has made our lives a lot easier because we've been preaching these concepts for years," said Jason Mausberg, managing director, IDS Scheer Canada. "Now when we're talking to customers, some of those concepts are better understood."

IDS Scheer AG's CTO, Wolfram Jost, said the company will be investing heavily in SOA-related technologies going forward, and has already released its ARIS SOA Designer offering.

He added surveys have shown that inadequate support for cross-functional processes is a top business process management concern, and an SOA-based approach at the modeling stage can make for business applications more flexible to changes in business processes.

"If you implement an ERP (system) today you can guarantee in a year you'll need to change your processes, and today's architectures cannot support process changes easily and [inexpensively]," said Jost. "SOA is an enabler to allow changes to business processes."

When it comes to making the pitch to the CEO for an SOA-based approach, though, Jost said the case must be made in business terms.

"It's important to show to your executive management that this technical stuff supports higher growth and profit," said Jost.

Despite the SOA hype, it appears getting that executive buy-in remains an uphill battle. Steve Tieman, vice-president of strategic modernization initiatives with Estée Lauder, said he doesn't see a business case beyond the firm's existing SAP portal and Estée Lauder's senior executives don't see a business value in the agility offered by SOA. "I feel SOA is being pushed from the technical perspective, and that's not going to convince our decision makers that we should spend the money and time to make that work," said Tieman.

It's a similar story at Molson Coors, another SAP and ARIS user, although looking at linkages between strategic and tactical business areas and linking goals to processes and associated metrics are all things the company is looking to address, said Debra Boykin, global business analyst with the brewer.

"I think SOA is still a pretty fuzzy concept and it's going to need a lot more explanation for us to get our arms around it."

While there's still SOA education to be done, Curtis Gittens, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont., said IDS Scheer is well positioned to ride an SOA-based wave of growth.

"Especially given SOA is not a technology implementation first and foremost, it's a business paradigm, and a top way of doing that is process modeling," said Gittens.

"When you're doing SOA you've got to get your processes modeled, itemized and implemented before you talk about SOA. IDS Scheer has been preaching that for a long while."

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